ArtSpace: Seeing the Voice of Many

By Raj Manimaran

A picture speaks a thousand words for many, but for the clients at ArtSpace, it can speak their entire lives.

“ArtSpace is not only a place to tap into one’s inner creativity,” Director Ruthann Traylor explained. “It is also a place that nurtures a safe and nonjudgmental atmosphere for those members of society who have been forgotten, pushed aside.”

ArtSpace operates as a therapeutic art program for the clients of the HomeFront organization.

While the mission of HomeFront has been to provide families, who have lost everything, a place to call home and the chance at a new life, ArtSpace strives to be a means of healing through the transition between homelessness and that fresh start.

By expressing the pains of the past in their paintings and drawings, the clients of the center find their self-confidence and self-esteem, not only revived, but gradually replenished.

“We hope that we can help our friends not only find a way to release their sorrows, but to realize that it doesn’t have to stay within and torment them from the inside,” Traylor said. “Through art, stories can be written and scars can be soothed.”

But ArtSpace does not only try to assist its clients for a better future, it attempts to advocate for the population through the pieces that they have poured their stories into.

The painting below expresses the story of a person who had experienced the very worst of homelessness, but the storyteller has since worked hard to “climb out of the hole” and come out on top. (The artist wrote an explanation to the piece, see the caption below the picture.)

The author of the piece will remain anonymous, but his/her story will not go hidden or unknown.

Thanks to the staff and volunteers at ArtSpace, these stories of missteps, yet unyielding resilience and perseverance have been and will continue to be displayed to the world.

ArtSpace will not only spread awareness throughout the community, but also to voice the stories of these men, women, and children who may have otherwise been silenced.

In October, the program held its premier exhibit, ArtJam, in Princeton, to sell artwork of its clients and other local artists with the profits going back to benefit ArtSpace. The event raised over $17,000, with an over­whelming majority going to benefit ArtSpace’s programs and clients in the future.

Traylor concluded, “Art is much more than paint streaked across a can­vas, it can be a gateway into the lives of many and a brighter tomorrow for everyone.”

Untitled

“One day I was wandering [and] exploring, like all young people do. I wasn’t watching where I was go­ing [and] I fell. I fell into a hole, the hole was so deep that it felt like it took me forever to hit the bottom [and] when I did, I hit it hard. I started trying to climb the walls, but every time I grabbed onto something it came loose [and] I fell. I spent years in this hole trying to climb out; so many times I wanted to give up. I wondered why I even bothered to keep trying, I kept falling. But I never gave up [and] one day when I started climbing I didn’t fall [and] I made it to the top. It took a long time, but now I am free and not only am I out of the hole, but I am climbing mountains, staying high above ground!”

I Was Homeless

A poem by Michelle Ann Miller

 

I was homeless.

But now my life has improved!

My life has improved a whole lot. When I say a whole lot, this is what I mean. I now have my two-bedroom apartment that I love a lot. I don’t have to pay for PSE&G and that is a big blessing for me.

But when I still see homeless people on the street, sometimes I will stop and talk to them and tell them things can get better—but you have to make the first move before it will happen.

When I was homeless, all I could do was keep being strong; I kept my head up to the sky. That helped me a whole lot. Now I am trying very hard to get my G.E.D., so I can show my daughter Nicole, who has been in the Army for 15 years, that her mother can improve her life just like she did.

Nicole will be very proud of me. My Daughter will be 35 years old in July, and I will be 49 next year. Since we went through so much when we had no place to rest our heads, I always thank the Good Lord for looking out for Nicole and me. Without Him, we could not have made it to where we are today.

I just want to say one more thing. When I get my G.E.D., I have big plans. I am going to get into child care. I’ve done it in my life before and I want to do it again.

So now that I told you how my life improved, I am going to say goodbye and God bless all of you.

My Appreciation

A poem by Rayon 

You help me when no one would show me the way,

When others try to appoint me astray.

I really do appreciate all the outings and advice from Jamie and J.

I’ll never forget the times we shared,

I know I’ve accomplished a lot just from being here.

The vibe is always sincere.

 

It’s a wonderful feeling to have both of you in my life

Someone encouraging me to always do right.

Realizing that I have two people other than my queen and princess,

I’m so thankful you keep me on the road to success

It wasn’t me, God is the reason that I am blessed.

Through the hardships and trials I progress…

Staying determined and focused was my key

I must confess.

Family Homelessness (From the Spring 2013 Issue)

Below is an article that originally appeared in the print version of the Spring 2013 paper:

A recent statistic from the National Center on Family Homelessness reveals that one in every 50 American children is homeless–equating to roughly 1.5 million children. While the effort to confront the issue has been taken up by many organizations, annual national numbers reflect the ongoing severity of family homelessness.

Family homelessness became a serious problem in this country in the mid-1980’s, due to large cutbacks in Federal investment in housing under Reagan. Prior to this, the United States last saw very high numbers of family homelessness during the Great Depression, which was remedied by the increase of employment at the start of WWII.  Since the 80’s, the problem has worsened, as various natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina–which displaced 1.5 million people 16 years and older– have left families and children without a place to call home. Worse yet, support for those affected by these disasters is often greatly diminished by the onset of each new natural disaster.

The economic recession of 2007 also worsened the issue as more than six million families were foreclosed on, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.  National data shows that family homelessness has been on the rise over the past six years. In 2006 the number was 1.5 million and as of 2010 it is 1.6 million, according to a report released by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

Why does homelessness among such a vulnerable group continue to persist? An influential report titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010”, compiled by the National Center on Family Homelessness, concludes that the causes are structural in nature: “Poverty combined with our nation’s lack of affordable housing have pushed the most vulnerable families out of stable housing onto a path towards homelessness.” Psychological and emotional trauma among young mothers, natural disasters, and man-made disasters such as the economic recession of 2007, are also said to have a very damaging effect on families. According to the report, the 2007 recession was responsible for a 38% increase in childhood homelessness.

In New Jersey and Mercer County, however, the number of homeless youths and their families has been decreasing.  The “America’s Youngest Outcasts” report establishes a “state report card” system which ranks the 50 states based on their success in tackling the issue of family homelessness–1 being the best, 50 the worst.  This state report card system takes into account factors like the extent of childhood homelessness, child well being, risk for childhood homelessness, and policy and planning efforts. As of 2010, New Jersey was given a composite score of 7. The top 5 states tackling the issue are Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Maine.

On a more local level, the Mercer County Alliance to End Homelessnesshas been making significant progress in reducing the number of homeless families. By working closely with The Mercer County Board of Social Services  (MCBOSS), the Alliance has seen the length of time that families spend in shelter or transitional housing decrease by 20 percent in a two-year period, and the number of families in hotels decrease by 66 percent over the course of a month.

This significant progress was achieved through a pilot rapid-rehousing program, which was in part funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.   Rapid Rehousing offers rental assistance and experienced case managers, who help the head of household return to full employment and overcome any barriers that stand in the way.  Re-housed families were 3.5 times more likely to be employed at the end of the program, as compared to those in transitional housing.

Though the national figures for family homelessness are on the rise, great strides are being made at a local county and state level. With new approaches to alleviating the problem and the rollout of rapid housing, the future for homeless families seems far more promising.

 

Article written by Steven P. Rodriguez

 

 

 

 

How we think of the ‘homeless’

One of the goals of The Wall is to change the way people think about homelessness and those who are homeless.  As with many different labels that society places on groups, being labeled as homeless often brings along unflattering  terms like laziness and lack of ambition ; however, many fail to realize how diverse the homeless community is (ranging from veterans, to families, to college students) and thus make general assumptions that a homeless person must be a failure—someone who was too lazy to be successful in society. Yet, if you have ever spent any time at a soup kitchen, or have ever spent a few moments to talk to a homeless person, you realize that their stories are often complex. Below is an interesting article that treats on this topic of the ignorance of many people regarding homelessness:

 

http://www.povertyinsights.org/2012/09/10/homeless-ism-a-new-kind-of-bigotry/